BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. On Thursday, in the wake of last week's attempted coup, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency and began purging his government and military of suspected coup plotters. Though he blames his political nemesis, Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, there’s still no hard evidence tying Gülen to the putsch attempt, in which more than 200 died on the night of July 15th. As military forces took over strategic assets with tanks and soldiers and as fighter jets thundered above, the media were an early target. At 9 pm, renegade soldiers stormed the state TV channel and forced a shocked-looking anchor to read a statement declaring martial law. A half an hour later, President Erdoğan, using the FaceTime app on his iPhone, managed, nonetheless, to appear on CNN Türk and urged citizens to take to the streets.
[PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN SPEAKING]
At midnight, coup forces raided CNN Türk and the neighboring offices of Hürriyet, Turkey’s largest daily, which, in recent months, had itself been targeted by the Erdoğan regime for coverage of a corruption scandal. There, using another phone app, one Hürriyet employee managed to broadcast the scene.
Emre Kizilkaya, Hürriyet’s digital news coordinator, was at home in Istanbul when he literally felt the trouble begin.
EMRE KIZILKAYA: There are so many F-16s now flying over Istanbul, our building was shaking because of their sonic booms. When I arrived at work, it was already clear that there was some kind of mutiny inside the army. So we started to follow the news coming out of Ankara, the Turkish capital. It was like 11. Prime Minister Yildirim spoke to the media and said, for the first time, that it was a coup attempt.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, so it becomes clear that this was a coup taking place. And you’re the biggest newspaper and you've got to [LAUGHS] publish something online immediately. What was the first report out of Hürriyet?
EMRE KIZILKAYA: The first report was about those low-flying jets and the soldiers taking over the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, which connects two continents, Asia and Europe. One crucial decision for us was when, just around the midnight, the soldiers took over the Turkish public broadcaster, TRT, and forced one of the speakers to read out their declaration of the coup at gunpoint, and the Turkish public broadcaster accepts as if it is a legitimate takeover.
We chose the other way. Although we had been quite critical of the government, when the time comes to support democracy we didn’t really care about who is the president, we just said that’s – this is democracy and it is under attack.
BOB GARFIELD: If this were 1970, let's say, and you were going to undertake an overthrow of an elected government, the first move in the playbook is to take over state TV, except this is not 1970. [LAUGHS] I gather the coup plotters forgot what millennium we’re living in.
EMRE KIZILKAYA: We were puzzled by their actions because, for instance, people were on Facebook, Twitter, discussing all this, all this stuff happening in the streets. They were making fun of them. Without controlling the free flow of information, they had no chance. We could see it.
BOB GARFIELD: You were making fun of them because they took over one TV station, instead of –
EMRE KIZILKAYA: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: - let's say, shutting down the Internet service provider.
EMRE KIZILKAYA: Yeah, exactly.
BOB GARFIELD: But, at the same time, they had fighter jets and tanks and they were strafing the Parliament building and people were dying, so not so funny.
EMRE KIZILKAYA: Yes, plus when you hear the voice of a soldier just in your building, it’s also not funny.
BOB GARFIELD: So tell me about that. At one point in the wee hours of the morning, the troops of the takeover showed up both at CNN Türk, which is a neighboring building to Hürriyet’s, and to your offices. What happened?
EMRE KIZILKAYA: They actually landed their military helicopter full of 12 soldiers, at first. There were two captains and ten conscripts, privates. So they raided our office. They threatened the security guards, so those security guards opened our big iron door, which, which was reinforced just nine months ago when pro-government protesters pelted our building with stones. It's ironical because at that time pro-government’s people were attacking our building because of our critical stories at that time and now soldiers, who were against these pro-government people, are raiding our building. They had machine guns and grenades, so it was a scary scene. And on the ground floor, we have an atrium and all the floors have balconies in that atrium, so in the middle of it the captain yells, everybody's coming down.
BOB GARFIELD: Everybody marched downstairs at gunpoint. You marched upstairs.
EMRE KIZILKAYA: Yeah, I made a critical decision. Actually, it could have cost my life. But I thought that people must see it somehow. We have a quite popular Facebook account. We have over 2.5 million likes, so I just push a button on my cell phone and started this Facebook live session. It was like 4 am, I think. In order to hide myself, plus still being able to show the things just downstairs, I went to the fifth floor, which is the top floor, and from the balcony I started to film what’s happening below.
[SOUNDTRACK/UP & UNDER]
Soldiers were rounding up our colleagues with guns, etc., and over 500,000 people watched that.
BOB GARFIELD: At what point did you surface?
EMRE KIZILKAYA: I filmed for a few minutes and then I noticed that my colleagues were walking in front of the soldiers at gunpoint, leaving the building. And I thought that hiding here would not be the smartest thing, so instead I went downstairs. And the soldiers were so surprised when they saw me, that I was coming from there behind. And I just joined my friends there, and we left together.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you one more thing, Emre. The coup, presumably, was a reaction to President Erdoğan‘s consolidation of power. It was antidemocratic but it was not responding to nothing. Hürriyet and you made the immediate decision to protect democracy and not to be a collaborator. But since then, Erdoğan has used this opportunity to crack down still farther. There are reportedly 50,000 people who have been purged from various places in the bureaucracy and the infrastructure of education, and some media outlets connected with Erdoğan’s political opponents have been shut down. Is it not likely that you are actually going to wind up becoming the victim of the very regime that you put everything on the line to protect?
EMRE KIZILKAYA: We are talking about Turkish F-16s bombing the Turkish Parliament, so it was not only the government but all parties, all political system and all free speech. It was something against us all. Right now, it’s too early to draw conclusions. I think this is a time that’s we need to all be calm, I think.
Of course, when you are looking from outside there are a lot of things look so awful, like these numbers, etc. But, at the same times, there are some glimmers of hope too. Just now, in, in the past hour, the Istanbul Municipality, which is controlled by the ruling party, announced that they will be providing free transport for the democracy rally of the main opposition party, CHP. There can be some reconciliation and the government can use it, actually, as an opportunity to build a better democracy. But this is a choice. If they will choose not democracy but tyranny, of course, we will be criticizing it. We were not intimidated by guns and we will not be intimidated by threats of any kinds.
BOB GARFIELD: Emre, thank you very, very much.
EMRE KIZILKAYA: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Emre Kizilkaya is digital news coordinator of Turkey's largest daily newspaper, Hürriyet.